"Shikari," by James Lincoln Warren, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2012.
My friend James goes from strength to strength, as the saying goes. This novelette is the best Sherlock Holmes pastiche I have read since Nicholas Meyer turned the field on its ear with The Seven Percent Solution.
James explains in an introductory note that the idea came when he read that during the nineteenth century the British intelligence service used doctors as spies in Asia. Of course, Dr. Watson was an army doctor in Afghanistan. And who was the head of British intelligence? Sherlock Holmes's brother Mycroft. If Watson was one of Mycroft's spies, than surely it was no coincidence that he wound up in a position to keep an eye on his boss's eccentric brother...
Wait a minute, the purists cry. Watson could never have been a spy! He was too innocent, too open, and not nearly observant enough.
And how do we know that? From the books and stories written by Dr. Wat- Oh. Hmm...
But Watson could never have fooled Holmes! Holmes was far too shrewd, too perceptive, and we know that from the books and stor- Hmm....
You may think I'm giving away the plot. Actually this is just the premise. All I will tell you about the actual plot is that it is told by two minor characters in the canon, and it retools some of the Holmes saga, while solving some of the great puzzles of the works (like Watson's famous wandering wound, for instance.)
And the writing sparkles. Here is one of the narrators: "I had known Lucky Jim Moriarty in India. We shared a common interest in embezzling from our regiments."
A treat from beginning to end, with some genuine shocks along the way.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Sunday, December 4, 2011
You may well accuse me of piling on the bandwagon, since my friend James yesterday won the Black Orchid Novella Award. But, as ever, I calls 'em as I reads 'em, and this week, the best of the bunch was a historical novella by Mr. Warren.
He has written a number of stories about Alan Treviscoe, an investigator for Lloyd's in late 18th century London. In this case Treviscoe is asked by a lady he met in an earlier tale to look into the death of her betrothed. This is no ordinary death, because the victim was found, burned and crushed, in the middle of Stonehenge, on the same night that mysterious lights were seen in the sky.
Since in addition he was the founder of a scientific group called the Luciferian Society, the suspicious naturally see a demonic element in the death. Treviscoe, as you can imagine finds a natural solution to the crime, but as he notes, "in my experience, murder is always the work of the Devil."
One of the trickiest bits about writing historical fiction is making the language sound right. The difficulty of this is sort of a bell curve, I think. It gets harder as you go back into the nineties, the eighties, etc. and probably hits a peek of trouble when you hit Shakespeare's time. After that I think it is less difficult simply because readers understand that you can't be expected to write Chaucer's English, or for that matter, Caesar's Latin, because we wouldn't be able to understand it.
My point is that Warren has the task of sounding appropriately eighteenth century, while still being comprehensible. He succeeds well, I think, not drowning us in jargon, but capturing the atmosphere nicely. And so we have references to Treviscoe "making his leg," the meaning of which the reader can deduce from the context. Or the nicely antiquated dialog: "What's this, sir? I to remain in London, whilst you place yorself in danger? In the company of a stranger, yet? It will not do." The letter written by the villain is a particularly choice and delightful example, revealing personality as well as grammar.
In that regard I can't resist noting that Treviscoe observes that the bad guy "lies like a French lover." What a treat..